The Dresden Dolls are a Boston based duo --- Amanda Palmer on vocals and piano and Brian Viglione on drums. They have a stunning image wearing white face make-up and old style clothes and their website alone is an absolute work of art, based around a kind of old Victorian dolls' house theme. They describe their music as "Brechtian punk cabaret" but they are far from being some sort of kitsch novelty act.
Amanda writes some of the best lyrics I've ever seen and part of her genius is that although her lyrics are quite 'wordy' and literate, she can still match them to a 'punk' sound without sounding pretentious or forced. Actually, Girl Anachronism is probably the closest to a punk tune with its feeling of chaos evoking the madness of the narrator. The rest of the songs are more traditional piano based numbers featuring a variety of tempo changes and Amanda's expressive voice which echoes the emotionally expansive style of Tori Amos. Amanda covers similar subjects like self harm and child abuse to other 'confessional' singers like Tori or Fiona Apple. However, her black humour and raw honesty seem closer to artists like PJ Harvey.
Their songs are perfectly constructed with Brian's drumming subtly supporting and showcasing Amanda's more demonstrative piano playing and vocals. Their style proves that you don't need to scream or have a heavy metal backing track to be able to convey the deepest and most heartfelt emotions. Their music is as beautiful and disturbing as their name, Dresden Dolls, suggests.
Truce, in particular, is an outstanding track. It took me a couple of listens to fully appreciate it because of the scope of the song. It's an epic on the scale of November Rain but without being so overblown so it actually becomes ten times more effective. It starts with a whisper and ends with a scream and in between it takes in all the conflicting emotions the end of a relationship can trigger using the imagery of terrorism and diplomacy to convey feelings of hurt, revenge, resignation, sadness and pain. I think it is an absolute masterpiece although having said that, there are many other outstanding tracks on this album like Good Day or Bad Habit. The Dresden Dolls are a unique band with the talent to fulfil their creative vision and always leave you wanting more.
NOTE: Some later versions of this album (including the UK release) feature the video for Girl Anachronism which is well worth seeing for its beautiful deranged genius.
Originally published in December 2004.